What to do if you can't open a file

What to do if you can’t open a file

What can you do if you can’t open a file? Many of us have been there, trying to open that important document or presentation from a friend or colleague without success.

There are several reasons why you might not be able to open your file. Here we walk through some common issues, providing basic troubleshooting.

Problem 1: File compatibility issues

File compatibility issues usually occur when you do not have the correct software to open a file. For example, if somebody sends you an old Microsoft Word file from their PC to your Mac, you may not be able to open it in Apple’s iWork document software, Pages.

One way to get around compatibility issues is to go back to the sender of the file and ask them to save the attachment in a user-friendly format (e.g. saving a word document as DOCX rather than .pages or .doc).

Need the file in a hurry? Don’t wait for the sender to reply; Zamzar is on hand day or night to convert your file to a version that you can open.

Have a look at the many hundreds of file types we can convert on our conversions page and transform your file in seconds with our straightforward file conversion tool.

If you find that you already have the relevant software installed, your issue could be related to the version of the software you have. Your software, or the software of the sender, could be out of date and incompatible. Use Zamzar to convert old file versions, such as Word 2007, to a newer format.

What to do if you can't open a fileGo mobile: File compatibility issues can be especially problematic when on a mobile device or tablet, as it’s unlikely you have all of your desktop software packages installed in app format across several devices. Convert your file on the go to a widely-used file format, such as PDF, using Zamzar.

Problem 2: Incorrect file association

The file extension could be incorrect, stopping your system from recognising what kind of file you have and therefore, how to open it.

What to do if you can't open a file

There are a few ways this can happen:

  • In renaming a file, someone may have accidentally added or deleted extra letters, changing the file extension from .jpg to .jpgh by accident. Your device does not understand what a .jpgh file is and thinks it cannot be opened. To resolve this issue, try reverting the file name back to the correct extension.
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  • The file may have been compressed. If the file is really big, such as a high-res image, video or lengthy document, the sender may have compressed the file into a .zip folder in order to send via email. The extension of the compressed file may not be supported by your device so you will need to use a decompression program to unzip the file. These files can also have other extensions, such as .rar, .tar, .7z or .gz. 
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  • The file may have no extension at all. If the file has been renamed it is possible the extension may have been deleted completely, making it tricky for your operating system to recgnise the file.

Problem 3: Antivirus software

What to do if you can't open a fileThe antivirus software or firewall protection installed on your device could be blocking your ability to download the file, thinking that the file might be dangerous. To get around this, it is first important to check that the file you are being sent is from a legitimate source. Is it somebody you know? Is it a file you were expecting to receive?

If it is a legitimate file, you can temporarily disable the antivirus software or firewall, often with the option of marking the sender as ‘trusted’ so that the issue does not happen again. Always remember to re-enable the antivirus software or firewall afterwards.

Problem 4: The file is corrupted

You may have received an error message telling you that the file is corrupted and cannot be opened.

The first line of response in this instance is to check whether the file opens correctly for the sender. If it doesn’t, it was likely already corrupted before it was sent to you.

A corrupted file could occur due to a bug or problem in the software, often when saving the file. Try asking the sender to revert the file back to an earlier version before trying to send again.


Free those problematic files.
Try Zamzar’s quick and easy file conversion tool.

Written by The Zamzar Team

We are Zamzar - home of the greatest online file conversion software. Freeing your files since 2006.

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